THE “absolutely superb” data from Oxford University, showing its vaccine cuts transmission of Covid-19, “will help us all to get out of this pandemic,” Matt Hancock has declared.

The UK Government’s Health Secretary hailed the new analysis from Oxford University after results showed the jag offers 76% protection up to three months after the first dose and could reduce transmission by 67%.

Cutting transmission is the key to lifting the most severe restrictions of lockdown more quickly and means infection levels could come down faster than they would otherwise.

However, there is still concern that new variants of coronavirus – which reduce the effectiveness of vaccines – could slow things down.

Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “We know from earlier trials that the vaccines are safe and effective at protecting the individual.

“We now know that the Oxford vaccine also reduces transmission and that will help us all to get out of this pandemic, frankly, which is why it is such good news that we should welcome.”

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The Secretary of State said the number of people in hospital was coming down and deaths would also drop. Indeed, Mr Hancock noted that the Oxford data suggested “we can have a high degree of confidence that that will come down quickly”.

The minister also said the data showing that delaying the second dose of the vaccine by up to 12 weeks could increase its efficacy “categorically” supported the Government’s strategy of stretching the time limit between doses.

“This Oxford report is very good news, it backs the strategy that we’ve taken and it shows the world that the Oxford vaccine works effectively,” he told Sky News.

Elsewhere, Professor Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation[JCVI], also praised the Oxford results, saying the finding on transmission was “very, very good news”.

He said: “It points to the fact that all of these vaccines to some extent will be able to reduce transmission.” However, he admitted there were still issues around new variants of coronavirus.

Asked if the new strains showed signs of being vaccine resistant, Prof Finn told Times Radio: “Yes, they do and that’s something that I guess we’ve expected all along.

“So, it is going to be a game of catch-up going forward; the vaccines will continue to work, but as the virus mutates they will work less well and we’ll have to adjust them to bring them back up to top-level protection.

“But that’s what we do with flu all the time; it’s not something that’s that alarming or unexpected really but it is a reality.”

He added: “There isn’t a silver bullet, we’re not going to solve this problem overnight, it’s going to take time.”

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Professor Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the Oxford vaccine trial, said his team was working hard to look at how effective the jag was against the Kent variant of coronavirus that has been spreading through the UK, adding that data should be available soon.

He said scientists were confident that vaccines would have a good impact against that variant but that others showing more worrying mutations were “going to be much more difficult to block from transmission”.

However, he explained vaccines in general should still protect against severe disease and could be adapted to mutant strains.

“One of the things that we know about these new variants is that they are making changes that allow them to avoid human immune responses so that they can still transmit.

“So, that does mean that it’s likely over time that the virus will find ways of adapting and continue to pass between people despite natural infection and immunity after that or from the vaccines.

“That doesn’t mean that we won’t still have protection against severe disease, because there’s lots of different ways in which our immune system fights the virus; it is much more about the virus being able to continue to survive, rather than for it to cause harm to us.

“If we do need to update the vaccines, then it is actually a relatively straightforward process it only takes a matter of months, rather than the huge efforts that everyone went through last year, to get the very large-scale trials run and read out,” added Prof Pollard.

Regarding the third of people who were vaccinated in the Oxford trial but may still be able to transmit the virus, he said: “There’s two questions that need to be asked: one is, how much virus are they shedding and the other is, for how long?

“We’re looking at that and we should have an answer to that really important question very soon.”